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Chapter 11:Printing

Main Idea: The technological innovation of printing had a great impact on all aspects of society.  This chapter surveys the development of printing and its impact on the society, culture, individuals, religion and politics.
Major steps in the development of printing
Oral  communication:  for most of its history, humanity has relied on spoken rather than written communication.  This made it difficult to: share knowledge with a large audience and required people to memorize vast amounts of information.  Skilled story tellers who could use mnemonic devices to remember were a valuable part of the community.  A mnemonic device is a way of remembering something.

Development of written communication:  A small number of the world's spoken languages developed a system of writing to represent its speech.  The development of writing allowed important stories and information to be recorded.  It was especially important for governments and religious institutions to have written records of documents, laws, scriptures, etc. 

  1. Written communication had little impact on society. 
  2. Most people could not read.
  3. Producing a written copy was a very slow process since each copy had to be done by hand.
  4. Outside of Spain, Europe of the Middle Ages had very few copies of books.  Some estimate that Europe had no more than a few thousand volumes in the 10th Century. (Note, however, that the libraries of Cordoba in Spain had as many as 600,000 volumes - all copied by hand!)
Printing with Woodblocks: Wood block printing basically required a skilled individual to carve the images and words onto a block of wood.  Ink could then be applied and the block pressed against paper or parchment. This process was known as early as the 7th Century in China and developed in the 1300's in Europe. 
  1. This was a slow process that could required a lot of work to carve the wood. 
  2. It could only produce on page at a time.
  3. It was not well-suited to printing text. 


Moveable Type: Moveable type refers to using an individual piece of wood, clay or metal for each letter or character.  It was pioneered by the Chinese using clay type in the 11th Century and the Koreans using metal type in the 14th Century. For a number of reasons, moveable type was not used on a wide scale in Asia until the 19th Century.
  1. In Europe, Johann Gutenberg is credited with perfecting moveable type in the 1400's. His moveable type consisted of metal, interlocking type set within a wood frame. The wine-press was modified to press the type against a piece of paper.
  2. In addition to the wine press, other technologies were employed to manufacture suitable ink and inexpensive paper instead of costly parchment.
  3. The perfection of moveable type made it possible to print thousands of copies in less time than it would take an individual to make one copy by hand. The first mass-produced items in Europe were books!
The Impact of Printing:
1. Expansion of Knowledge: The ability to share knowledge with a large number of people encouraged a rational, critical spirit that could analyze the knowledge and offer corrective feedback.  More time could be devoted to analysis, research and reflection since no time was needed for memorization of information. 

2. Religious:  Publishing made the Protestant Reformation possible.  Through the printed word Martin Luther's message reached a very large audience. Moreover, Luther emphasized the importance of reading the scripture and thus created a demand for printed versions of the Bible in the language of the people while diminishing the need for "experts" (priests).

3. Political:  The Protestant Reformation along with a new critical spirit destroyed the political/religious unity of Europe. As documents were printed in the native language a new sense of nationalism emerged.  Critical thinking challenged old authorities such as the Catholic Church.

4. Economic:  The spread of Protestantism was accompanied by the spread of capitalism. (Remember Calvinism!).  Moreover, printing made literacy an important skill through which businesses could learn about new ways, legal matters, and keeping accounts.

5.Psychological: Reading is an private activity in contrast to story-telling.  Moreover, books establish the reader as the central reference point.  Consequently a stronger sense of the individual self emerged. Reading also reinforced sequential thought patterns.


Newspapers and Public Opinion

Several important technological innovations  were made to the printing press that allowed rapid type setting and printing.  The most important were:

  1. The steam-powered printing press - London 1813
  2. The use of a rotating cylinder to hold type - 1846
  3. Linotype machine - automatic type-setting of entire lines - 1886.

These innovations made it possible to produce daily newspapers with circulations in the tens of thousands. The mass circulation of newspapers gave them the ability shaped public opinion.

  1. "Yellow Journalism" stressed the bizarre, scandals, sensational. This sensationalism was often caused by intense competition between rival newspapers - especially between William Randolph Hearst (NY Journal) and Joseph Pulitzer (NY World).
  2. Editorial policies of papers also influenced the public's understanding: in the late 1890's the editorial policies of major papers helped to develop a public demand for war against Spain.
(NOTE: If you want to know more about yellow journalism, its origins and the role of the newspaper in leading America into the Spanish American war, visit:

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